Louisville Cardinals vs. Virginia Cavaliers Pick
Louisville Cardinals (19-11 SU, 15-13 ATS) vs. Virginia Cavaliers (27-2 SU, 22-7 ATS)
When: Saturday, March 9, 2019 – 4 PM ET
Where: John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, Va.
By: Dan Jamison, College Basketball Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Virginia – 13 (WagerWeb)
Last Time Out: Louisville beat Notre Dame 75-61; Virginia crushed Syracuse 79-53.
Scouting the Cardinals:
If nothing else, Louisville staved off some serious questioning following a win over Notre Dame. Had the Cardinals lost that one and ended up with a four-game skid that included Notre Dame and Boston College, both of whom will be playing in round one of the ACC tournament, it would have been a reasonable question as to whether they’re coming apart at the end of the season.
As it is, they’re still not in great shape. The win over the Irish marked the first time in five games that Louisville had broken 60 points, a streak that went back to their loss to Duke. Louisville’s offense has the talent to be a lot better than this, but it seems that the Cardinals’ blown 23-point lead against the Blue Devils is still in their heads — and that’s a recipe for disaster against a squad of Virginia’s caliber.
Scouting the Cavaliers:
Well, that’s one way to answer the questions about the offense. Granted, Virginia’s past three games haven’t exactly involved a murderer’s row of opponents, as Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh aren’t going to be playing anywhere after the ACC tournament, but the Cavaliers also crushed Syracuse in their last game thanks to shooting 72 percent from behind the 3-point arc. That’s hard to do in an empty gym, let alone in the face of an opposing collegiate defense, and it’s probably not sustainable. What is sustainable is Virginia taking smart shots, getting open and keeping its standards high on the defensive end. There’s a reason that the Cavaliers haven’t lost to anyone but Duke this year.
ACC tournament seeding. Uniquely in college basketball, the ACC does not recognize a regular season champion, so Virginia isn’t playing for a title in this game. However, the Cavaliers can lock up the No. 1 seed if they can beat the Cardinals, and historically, that’s been a big benefit for Virginia. Of the Cavaliers’ three ACC titles, two have come with Virginia as the No. 1 seed, and of the past six ACC championships, four have gone to the No. 1 seed.
Louisville doesn’t have a shot to move into the double-bye slot, as the Cardinals can only get as high as fifth. But that still carries some weight for the Cardinals, because the other two ACC champions in the past six years were both No. 5 seeds. Even if the Cardinals can’t get into the No. 5 spot, there’s still some incentive to move up. If Louisville gets up to sixth, it will set itself up for a rematch with the Boston College team that beat it last week.
Louisville will Cover if:
The Cardinals get inside and fight the way they didn’t in the first meeting with Virginia. Louisville is usually pretty solid in the paint, but against Virginia, the Cardinals managed just four points in the paint for the entire game. The only reason the Cardinals were even in the game was because they shot the lights out from deep in the first half, but that isn’t sustainable, and Louisville found that out the hard way in the second half when the shots stopped dropping. The Cardinals’ game plan is built around getting inside, and they can’t be intimidated by the Cavaliers.
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Virginia will Cover if:
The Cavaliers can keep Louisville off the free throw line. There’s one and only one place where Virginia can’t defend against Louisville: the charity stripe. Louisville is excellent at shooting free throws, ranking seventh in the nation at 78 percent. In the first meeting, Louisville never penetrated Virginia’s defense, and as a result, the Cardinals only attempted eight free throws for the entire game. The Cavaliers need to replicate that stingy, hard-nosed clean defense to get the result.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread:
Louisville has been a big surprise this year, but the Cardinals look like they’re starting to hit the wall. The offense just isn’t there, and they seem unsure of themselves after that loss to Duke. Something just isn’t right with this team, and that’s not a good thing for a team that’s going into a meeting with Virginia.
By contrast, Virginia seems to be back on track and finishing the year strong. The Cavaliers want that top seed and want to get back to Charlotte and make amends for the UMBC loss in that building a year ago. They seem focused and ready to go, and Louisville doesn’t seem close to that. I’m taking Virginia.